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With tentacles in many disciplines, capstone team merges engineering, design

Concept art courtesy of SQUID design team.

Unlike many engineering endeavors, SQUID isn’t an acronym, an alphabet soup-style amalgam of complicated scientific terms. Instead, it refers to a device designed by a team of Northeastern University senior engineering and graphic design students who have created a sensor-equipped shirt that connects with an Android app and interactive website.

“The box and wires in our prototype looked like a torso and tentacles,” said Alex Moran, a senior engineering major. “We wanted to stay away from the normal engineering naming conventions and instead make something more brandable.”

The senior capstone project bridged disciplines including engineering and graphic design as well as human physiology and sports medicine. It is made up of a compression athletic shirt with sensors attached to it, which translate electronic signals into data that is fed into the SQUID Android app and an accompanying website. The students collaborated with faculty from the College of Engineering, College of Arts, Media and Design and the Bouvé College of Health Sciences.

“One of the biggest things early on was figuring out what work fell onto what team’s turf,” said Mark Sivak, a visiting assistant academic specialist in the College of Arts, Media and Design’s creative industries program. Sivak works closely with the team’s capstone advisor, Constantinos Mavroidis, a professor of mechanical and industrial engineering in the College of Engineering.

The team successfully bridged the gaps between their disciplines, Mavroidis said.

“We had a lot of questions about the engineering, and that’s certainly what our job is,” said graphic design student Ali Aas. “We had to learn a lot about the scientific side of this project so we could design something that was both visually impressive and also worked with what the engineers on our team were designing.”

Early on, Mavroidis suggested the students consider a project that merges engineering and health sciences. “We started talking about a medical device a person could wear or have at home that would be connected to a smartphone,” he said.

The team took that advice and modified it slightly, looking at the success of products like the Nike+ technology that syncs with an iPod or iPhone and the lack of similar products that could be used for physical training by athletes or amateurs looking to optimize their time at the gym. Their device ultimately captured the electrical signals created by moving muscles and translated that into data that can be used to measure workouts and track progress over time.

The students also worked with Greg Cloutier, the project manager in the Bouvé College of Health Sciences’ Human Performance and Exercise Science Laboratory led by Prof. Carmen Sceppa, to determine the best way to integrate muscle sensors into their design and how to read and interpret the data they were gathering. Then they tested each phase of their designs, from simple sensors attached directly to the skin to a more finished product.

The group presented its prototype to faculty and classmates in December, but the work is far from done. Mavroidis envisions having a version of SQUID on the market in two or three years.

In addition to Moran and Aas, the SQUID team included mechanical and industrial engineering seniors Adam Morgan, Joe Sheehan, Thomas Wilbur, Kyle Peters and Trevor Lorden and graphic design seniors Amy Schaffer and Alex Morgan.

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